Tim Petersen is the new executive director of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Timothy Peterson, the new executive director of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, arrived in Rockland with plenty of real-world experience. He has spent 30 years working with nonprofits and has been an executive director at two other art institutions, including a visual art space in an urban setting that specialized in contemporary art and a regional community arts organization with deep roots – not unlike CMCA, except it also had a performing arts component.

He has raised funds, balanced budgets and both supervised and developed programming. He sees the CMCA job, which he took over in January, as a perfect confluence of his past experience and his hopes for the future: a job that builds on his successes as a contemporary art curator – “that’s the heart of who I am,” he says – and one that demands creativity and new ideas to move CMCA forward. “This job is going to use the full 30 years of my experience,” he said.

He sees the pandemic as an opportunity to listen to the community, learn about what it wants and needs, and find different ways to engage and make connections – and, ultimately, grow. Toward that end, Peterson has arranged for free membership to every Rockland resident, thanks to a new sponsorship with First National Bank. He’s connecting in other ways too. A few weeks ago, he was planting flowers in the city’s flower boxes in front of CMCA on Winter Street, and greeting people as they walked past.

The dirt washed from his hands, he spoke about his experiences during an interview at his office and also answered questions by email.

Q: You came to this job in the middle of the pandemic and in the midst of a national reckoning over race and equity. How will the programming at CMCA reflect both of those issues, in terms of content and how visitors interact with CMCA?

A: Our society and institutions need systemic change in order to truly learn and evolve from our past and the continuing cultural reckoning. We have to let go of fixed ideas and embrace our journey forward as a dialogue – with artists, staff, community, stakeholders, colleagues – and have a shared and active goal to continually be and do better.

A key to all of this is consistency. My goal is to ensure that every visitor will see themselves reflected in the artists and partners we work with at any given time.

Programmatically, I am shifting our lobby gallery to present solo exhibitions that are intentionally public facing, as they are on view 24/7 through our massive courtyard windows. This change will launch in the fall with an exhibition by the Portland artist Ryan Adams, who will create a 33-foot-long mural featuring words of advice he often heard from his mother as a child, advice for safely fitting in to a white-majority community.

Ryan employs an incredible use of language, color and visual depth in his murals, paintings and prints. I am very excited to see how his ideas take shape.

Q: You have said you want CMCA to be “stitched closely to the community.” What does that mean, and how will you do it?

A: At our heart, we are an art center and while we serve the entire state of Maine, that service starts in Rockland and the midcoast region. I care a great deal about being an advocate for contemporary art and for community.

Starting in our backyard, we are launching a free membership program for Rockland residents, made possible by First National Bank, that will ensure our immediate neighbors can access our programs as often as they wish with free attendance and advance notice for our upcoming exhibition and education programs.

I am also building on the tremendous work of our education staff, led by Mia Bogyo, who dramatically expanded arts outreach and collaborations during the pandemic. Our education program is continuing its outreach with active collaborations with the Rockland School District, Midcoast Music Academy, Indigo Arts Alliance and Out Maine, to name a few. I have begun to add to that with upcoming collaborations with Colby College and the Camden International Film Festival.

On Aug. 14 we will launch an annual, 20-booth Maine Makers Market in our courtyard that will highlight the work of midcoast artists who make incredible everyday objects and tools. Artists will keep 100 percent of their proceeds. We are also increasing the number of area artists represented in our gift shop.

Q: In addition to your work as an administrator, you have spent many years as a curator. This job involves both. Among the 100-plus solo exhibitions you have you organized or curated at other places, what are you most proud of, and what are some of the shows you are planning for this fall or winter at CMCA – as much as you can reveal?

A: I am most proud when I can offer an opportunity that comes at a key moment in an artist’s career for a pivotal project. This impact is amplified further when an exhibition can connect strongly to your audience. I presented the first career solo exhibition for Njideka Akunyili Crosby, whose paintings comment on the pull she feels between her native Nigeria and new home in the U.S. I was able to present that in a Minneapolis neighborhood that continues to be a first home for new immigrants.

I also presented the first solo exhibition outside New York City by Kehinde Wiley, and witnessed the power of audiences seeing themselves reflected in his monumental paintings. It also means a great deal to offer a strong platform for local artists, with past projects by Minnesota artists Rob Fischer, Alexa Horochowski and Santiago Cucullu, that led to new opportunities. I also co-curated a retrospective of the late-Savannah photographer Jack Leigh that led to a re-evaluation of his work.

In addition to Ryan’s exhibition, I am working with curatorial assistant Rachel Romaski to organize two thematic group exhibitions. The Main Gallery will present sculptures designed to rest directly on the floors or lean or hang on the walls employing a spare use of media and minimal forms. It should feel like an indoor sculpture garden, lit by four massive north-facing skylights. The Brown Gallery will present a photography exhibition featuring images taken in nature that document actions captured by or staged for the camera or require action by viewers.

Q: Do you have a curatorial philosophy?

A: Treat every artist as a partner and chart a path together. That goes for staff, board, audiences, supporters and community, too.

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